Rams finally won one; can they do it again?

Nov 5, 2009 - 8:42 PM By R.B. FALLSTROM AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS(AP) -- No question, the St. Louis Rams deserve to be 1-7. So far, they've proven only that they can beat another really bad team.

To match or - gasp - top last year's 2-14 record, they know they'll have to step it up.

"We've just got to keep plugging away," rookie head coach Steve Spagnuolo said during the bye week. "We're going to play some good teams, and hopefully we'll be playing some good football, too."

The second half of the schedule is not nearly as daunting as the first eight games, even for a franchise that's a sorry 6-34 the last three seasons. The Rams played their first two games on the road and four of the first six, the basic recipe for a staggering start.

They'll no doubt be double-digit underdogs at home the first game back against the unbeaten Saints. But overall, the last eight opponents are a combined 30-27, and Seattle (2-5) Nov. 29 at home and Tennessee (1-6) on the road Dec. 13 appear to represent opportunity.

Maybe it's just the euphoria of Sunday's 17-10 victory at Detroit, but players seemed genuinely optimistic about their chances of not embarrassing themselves the rest of the way.

"I tell people that this should be the first win of many," center Jason Brown said. "It was a long time coming, but we've been working extremely hard, and although the win total might not show it, we feel we're improving."

As the numbers show across the board, they've got far to go. The Rams are last in the NFL in scoring and 29th in points allowed, last in third-down defense, among the worst with a minus-7 turnover differential.

Check almost any category and they're at or near the bottom. The box office, too, where they'll have to scramble to sell out the five remaining home games.

And yet, a few plays that go the other way and they enter the bye 3-5. Two weeks ago they squandered the lead late in the fourth quarter at Jacksonville and lost in overtime, and they outplayed the Redskins in a 9-7 Week 4 loss, also on the road. They were in a scoreless tie at halftime at Seattle in the opener before everything fell apart in a 28-0 setback.

Three turnovers inside the Minnesota 10 kept the Rams from at least keeping it close in a 38-10 home loss to the Vikings in Week 5.

"It was a rough road," Spagnuolo said. "Let's face it."

A productive run game led by bruising Steven Jackson makes the Rams at least a bit dangerous. The 235-pounder is tied for the NFC rushing lead with the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, lacking 216 yards for his fifth straight 1,000-yard season, and trails Peterson by 3 yards for the NFL lead in yards from scrimmage.

He's coming off one of his best games, dragging Lions would-be tacklers for 149 yards on 22 carries and scoring the winning TD on a late 25-yard jaunt last Sunday.

The Rams spent a lot of money on the offensive line, signing Brown to a free-agent deal and drafting tackle Jason Smith with the second overall pick, and it's starting to pay off.

"You can see the guys are growing, especially the rookie," Jackson said. "He did an awesome job, and it's definitely something we can grow on."

Deficiencies at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive line and secondary will keep the margin for error paper thin.

Throwing to a cast of no-names, Bulger has more interceptions (4) than touchdown passes (3) and has been settling for short tosses too much, perhaps beaten down a bit by all the losing.

Two defensive linemen are on injured reserve and top cornerback Ron Bartell has lacked top speed for several weeks due to a lingering groin injury that brings pain with every step. End Chris Long, the second pick of the 2008 draft, leads the line in tackles and finally got his first sack of the season last week.

The Rams have appeared reluctant to dial up too many blitzes to perhaps even the playing field.

Coaches spent a good deal of the bye week self-scouting, although Spagnuolo doesn't anticipate big changes in scheme or personnel after the break.

"If you go too far, you just confuse the guys," he said. "You don't want to do that. We've laid a foundation and we'll just try to get better at it."

Long before it started, Spagnuolo knew this would be a tough season. The Rams are in a difficult rebuilding phase after mistakes by the past regime led to salary cap issues that prompted them to cut ties with several veterans. The coach has been relentlessly upbeat, consistently looks forward rather than revisiting bonehead plays in detail. After beating the Lions, appreciative players rewarded Spagnuolo with the game ball.

"It's good to see everyone smiling," said rookie middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, among the bright spots the first half. "The first thing Spags told us is that's what it's supposed to feel."

When will they get that feeling again?

"Certainly, we're not accepting losing, but we've got to treat every week the same and start to turn some of these moral victories into real victories," Long said. "When we do that, we'll be a lot happier."

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